Family, friends, colleagues and students gathered Friday to remember a 41-year-old Palm Desert High School math teacher allegedly murdered by her boyfriend.
Jill Thomas Grant's body was discovered near Golf Center Parkway and Avenue 42 in Indio on Dec. 23, and 42-year-old Michael John Franco was arrested in Palm Desert the following day.
Grant's memorial in the Palm Desert High School gym was attended by hundreds, even though the school is on holiday break until Monday.
"The visible testimony . . . of her life is here. There are literally thousands more she has touched," said the Rev. Joe Hooper of the Center for Spiritual Living in Palm Desert.
Statistics teacher Shaw Zaidins called Grant an "extraordinary" educator dedicated to her work and her students.
"There may never be another person like Jill, but she always believed there would be other teachers (to help students) . . . I can only hope I remember and honor Jill by being that kind of teacher," he said.
Principal Bob Hicks said Grant "seemed to instantly become friends with everyone she met. When I began here in Palm Desert, Jill was one of the first people to welcome me with kind words . . . she had the same skill with helping students feel comfortable in her class."
Hicks noted that Grant both taught high-level math and helped students trying to pass the state high school exit exam.
One note from a student said "Mrs. Grant is the one person on campus I can go to for anything," the principal said.
Grant's brother, Michael Thomas, read a letter to her recalling their childhood, expressing amusement at her hobbies and gratefulness for her many friends.
"I promise you I will see this through. I will be attentive and strong, and I promise there will be justice for you," he said.
Grant's parents, Anne and Marvin Thomas, were quoted in a letter written by Hooper that Grant "assisted us when were were sick and had fun when we were well."
She planned anniversary parties for them, worked hard to be at the top of her class and "became a wonderful teacher who touched so many," the letter stated.
Counselors will be available for students and staff when school resumes Monday after the holiday break.
Grant grew up in the Santa Rosa Mountains above Palm Springs and attended Palm Desert Middle School and Palm Desert High School, graduating in 1990.
She attended College of the Desert, then transferred to Cal State San Bernardino, where she majored in mathematics. She taught math at Palm Springs High School for three years, starting in 1995, and began teaching at her alma mater in 1998, according to the Desert Sands Unified School District.
Investigators found evidence at Grant's residence in the 84-400 block of Onda Drive in Indio that allegedly linked her boyfriend to her death, according to Indio Police Department spokesman Ben Guitron.
Franco was arrested Christmas Eve in a car in the 47200 block of Heliotrope Drive in Palm Desert by police who tracked him through his cell phone, Guitron said.
Franco pleaded not guilty on Dec. 27 to murder and one felony count each of being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm and carrying a loaded firearm, along with sentence-enhancing allegations of using a deadly weapon in the commission of a felony.
The criminal complaint lists a Toyota Prius and a box cutter as weapons used in the killing.
Franco remained locked up Jan. 3 at Smith Correctional in Banning, in lieu of $5 million bail. He's due back in court Monday for a felony settlement conference.
Reported by City News Service in Palm Desert